WASHINGTON – Mike Huckabee's presidential rivals are pointing to chinks in his record as Arkansas' governor — from ethics complaints to tax increases to illegal immigration and his support for releasing a rapist who was later convicted of killing a Missouri woman.
The Republican presidential candidate has plenty to champion from his 10 1/2 years as governor — including school improvements and health insurance for the children of the working poor. But his record has rough edges, and Huckabee has a habit of playing fast and loose with it.
Other campaigns for the GOP nomination, watching Huckabee's rise in polls in Iowa, are starting to mine his past for political fodder. Take ethics, for example.
"People are starting to contact us and they're saying we want everything on Mike Huckabee," says Graham Sloan, director of the state's Ethics Commission.
What they'll find is 436 pages of documents chronicling Huckabee's various tangles with a commission he's derided as a political tool of Democrats. It's a panel that has held proceedings 20 times on the former governor and lieutenant governor.
But the Ethics Commission files don't cover everything, and this year — anticipating criticism — Huckabee's campaign set up a "truth squad" to push his side of various stories. It often offers, at best, an incomplete account of his record.
On major issues:
— The truth squad says the only finding by the Arkansas Ethics Commission that Huckabee accepted a gift improperly was tossed out by a state court. In fact, the panel investigated 16 complaints against Huckabee and found five violations. Only one, for accepting a $500 canoe from Coca-Cola, was tossed out.
Two of the complaints against Huckabee pertain to unreported gifts — the canoe and a $200 stadium blanket received by his wife, Janet. Two stem from cash the governor or his wife received but did not initially report. The panel also ruled in 2003 that Huckabee's campaign violated state law when it used its funds to pay for an event during the summer of 2002 called Gospel Fest
During his tenure, Huckabee accepted 314 gifts valued overall at more than $150,000, according to documents filed with the Arkansas secretary of state's office. (He accepted 187 gifts in his first three years as governor but was not required to report their value.)
— Huckabee has consistently understated his role in the parole of rapist Wayne DuMond, who had been convicted in the 1984 rape of a distant cousin of former President Clinton.
Two months after taking office, Huckabee stunned the state by saying he questioned DuMond's guilt and that it was his intention to free the rapist, who had been castrated by masked men while awaiting trial. Huckabee said then he had "serious questions as to the legitimacy of his guilt" and acknowledged later that he had met with DuMond's wife about the case while he was lieutenant governor. Two months after ascending to the governor's office, Huckabee met with the woman again.
The ex-governor now blames his predecessor for making DuMond parole eligible — Jim Guy Tucker commuted a life-plus-20 years sentence to 39 1/2 years — but distances himself from his role in DuMond's release. Huckabee met privately with the state parole board, and two members have said he pressured them for a vote.
"He made it obvious that he thought DuMond had gotten a raw deal and wanted us to take another look at it," former board member Charles Chastain said in 2001. "Some board members who were usually very tough about letting people out ... (later) voted in favor of him, and seemed eager to."
On his campaign Web site, Huckabee says the parole board was made up entirely of Democrats appointed by Clinton and Tucker. It doesn't mention that Huckabee reappointed board member Railey Steele days before he voted with three other members to set DuMond free. DuMond was later convicted of killing a woman in Missouri and died in 2005.
— Huckabee likes to say he was tough on taxes in Arkansas, noting a $100 million tax cut in 1997 that until this year was Arkansas' largest. When asked about a fuel tax increase he backed in 1999, Huckabee says incorrectly that he joined 80 percent of Arkansas voters in approving it.
Huckabee in 1999 supported a $1 billion highway bond program, including costs for interest and lawyers' fees, but the question on the ballot was only whether the state could take on the debt, not how Arkansas would pay for it. Huckabee had signed the fuel tax increase two months earlier.
Shortly after taking office, Huckabee took a four-day trip by bass boat along the Arkansas River to tout a 1/8th-cent sales tax increase for outdoor programs. (Two nature centers now carry the names of Huckabee and his wife.) Taxes went up $40 million in the months before the $100 million tax cut Huckabee touts.
Other taxes went up as Arkansas changed its property tax system and made improvements to its school system.
— Huckabee's recent strong stand on immigration, including an intolerance toward companies that employ illegal immigrants, runs counter to the image he crafted in his final years in office. He was battling conservatives within his own party who were pushing for stricter state-level immigration measures.
Huckabee opposed a Republican lawmaker's efforts in 2005 to require proof of legal status when applying for state services that aren't federally mandated and proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Huckabee derided the bill as un-American and un-Christian and said the bill's sponsor drank a different "Jesus juice."
That same year, Huckabee failed in his effort to make children of illegal immigrants eligible for state-funded scholarships and in-state tuition to Arkansas colleges. At the time, Huckabee said he didn't understand the opposition to it.
"It hurts me on a personal as well as a policy level to think that we are still debating issues that I kind of hoped we had put aside in the 1960s, maybe at the latest the '70s, and yet I understand people have deep passions about things usually they don't fully understand," Huckabee said.